Joanna Boyce Wells’s Study of Fanny Eaton: strong and graceful

The English painter largely overlooked by history captures perfectly muted emotions and elegance in this study

The lady vanishes …

Like most working-class people of colour in Victorian England, any trace of Fanny Eaton’s life could have been lost to time. She travelled from Jamaica with her mother, a former slave, and spent most of her years in domestic servitude. Her husband died when she was 46, leaving her with 10 children. No written word of her life survives.

Here to stay …

However, in 1988 she was identified as a model in a number of pre-Raphaelite paintings where she appears as figures as diverse as Moses’s Mother and Morgan le Fay.

Graceful echo …

This 1861 study by another woman long overlooked by history, Joanna Boyce Wells, was a preparatory work for a never-realised painting of a Libyan sibyl. It’s a graceful echo of Michelangelo’s sibyl in the Sistine Chapel.

Strong women …

Boyce Wells was a talented painter whose career was cut short when she died from infection after childbirth. Strong women rank among her standout subjects: rebel queens and, as is the case here, a visionary priestess.

Study of Fanny Eaton by Joanna Wells.
Study of Fanny Eaton by Joanna Wells. Photograph: Richard Caspole/Yale Center for British Art

Included in Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, National Portrait Gallery, WC2, to 26 January

Contributor

Skye Sherwin

The GuardianTramp

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